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Spring Fair Takes Its Lumps

Wed, 03/11/2020 - 23:59

The East Hampton Village Board criticized the East Hampton Chamber of Commerce’s stewardship of the village’s annual spring fair, and at a board meeting last Thursday questioned whether the event should be held this year.     

Since 2017, the fair has been held on Newtown Lane, which the village has closed to traffic, and, for the past two years, it has taken place on the Saturday before Mother’s Day.     

After last spring’s fair, several storeowners said it had been disastrous for sales because closing the street had made it impossible for customers to find parking.     

“Everybody on Newtown Lane said it impacted their business, and a couple said they had no sales or practically nothing,” Donald Horowitz, a co-owner of Wittendale’s Florist and Greenhouses on Newtown Lane, told the board at the time.     

Wittendale’s had been especially affected, he said, because Mother’s Day is one of the biggest days of the year for the store.     

Mayor Richard Lawler said last week that the board had made it clear to the Chamber of Commerce that the fair would have to be held no later than the first weekend in May, and in Herrick Park rather than on Newtown Lane.     

The chamber had yet to apply for a permit for this year’s fair, he said, but in a notice on its Facebook page, the group said the event would take place on May 16, the Saturday after Mother’s Day.     

“I was surprised the chamber posted it,” said the board’s Rose Brown. A representative from the chamber was unable to attend the meeting, and Michael Howell, its membership manager, who organized the village’s most recent fair, did not return requests for comment.     

Having the fair in Herrick Park the weekend after Mother’s Day would still be detrimental to Wittendale’s, Mr. Horowitz told the board. The store, he said, does 60 percent of its business in May and June, and maximizing profits during the summer season allows it to remain open during the winter months. “We’re a community business, and we think it’s important to be open year round whether we’re truly making money or not.”     

“There are some great things about the fair, but it needs to be in the right place and on the right date,” Mr. Horowitz said. “Having it before we’re busy is very, very important.”     

Valerie Smith, the owner of the Monogram Shop, agreed that a fair would be much more beneficial to shopkeepers if it were held in February, March, or April, when activity in the village is “so incredibly slow.” HarborFrost, Sag Harbor’s popular fair, which is held in February, is proof that cold weather wouldn’t deter people from attending, she said.     

Ms. Smith also took issue with the goods on sale at the fairs. “It’s just a lot of junk,” she said. “We need to make sure the highest standards are upheld.” The chamber, she said, should emulate the “gold standard” set by the Ladies Village Improvement Society’s annual fair.

“We’ve sat with the chamber and explained to them that we wanted a higher quality of goods, and it seems to be falling on deaf ears,” said Barbara Borsack, the deputy mayor.     

“If I wanted to go to an UpIsland craft fair, I would go to one UpIsland,” added Arthur Graham, a board member. He said allowing shopkeepers to have a day of sidewalk sales might be more beneficial to the community than having a fair.     

Ms. Brown said the board should get feedback from residents, many of whom have enjoyed taking their kids to the fair, and ask the chamber to provide an update onthis spring’s event. “Let’s hit the pause button, and have them come back,” she said.     

Mr. Lawler concurred, but added that the fairs may not be worth the money spent on policing them. “They become very costly for village government,” he said. 

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